Campus critics doubt need for 10th school site

Megan V. Winslow / Town Crier
Bullis Charter School and its 800-900 students currently share space on the Egan and Blach campuses.

Supporters of shared campuses in the Los Altos School District made their presence felt last week during a public forum they organized. Meanwhile, district officials said purchasing land for a new campus remains the top priority for them and the community at large.

The advocacy group Creative Facilities Solutions organized the Sept. 27 forum, moderated by Los Altos Hills City Councilman John Radford, a Bullis Charter School supporter. Radford advanced the argument that district campuses such as Covington and Egan are large enough to support two campuses.

Some supporters of the shared-campus model fear that the lion’s share of $150 million in voter-approved 2014 Measure N bond funds will go toward buying expensive land at the exclusion of other schools’ needs.

Looming large is the question of what happens to Bullis Charter School and its 800-900 students, who currently share space on the Egan and Blach campuses. Land-purchase talks have centered on sites in Mountain View, where most of the enrollment growth is expected to originate.

The district and Bullis Charter School are in their fourth year of a five-year agreement that amounts to a cease-fire in litigation over “reasonably equivalent facilities” to which the charter school is entitled under state Proposition 39.

The Creative Facilities Solutions forum featured a presentation by architect Bill Gould of Artik Art & Architecture, a firm that specializes in school architecture. Gould has extensive experience designing shared campuses.

Gould proposed two options. One featured a slight realignment of the Egan site, while the second called for leveling the Covington site and absorbing Rosita Park to build two separate schools. The first plan had a projected price tag of $90 million, and the second totaled $83 million. Shared-campus supporters noted that either option would leave Measure N funds remaining for improving existing sites.

Heated discussion on both sides focused on the facts behind the options presented and perspectives on past events. As the meeting wound to a close, Radford kept returning to one refrain.

“The school district, under no uncertain terms, must come up with an alternative that uses existing land,” he said, “if for no other reason than to put together with a proposal for new land.”

Help from Mtn. View?

District Superintendent Jeff Baier said officials are meeting regularly with Mountain View staff to determine how the city can help in the effort to purchase land and build a school in the general area of El Camino Real and San Antonio Road. Developers are constructing hundreds of new housing units in the area.

Mountain View’s interest is in creating more park space in the San Antonio Road area. A partnership with the Los Altos School District could ensure after-hours community use at the new school site.

A Mountain View City Council study session was scheduled Tuesday, after the Town Crier’s press deadline. Councilmembers were asked to offer input on a “transfer of development rights” process to support a site acquisition and a potential master agreement for shared open space and recreational facilities.

According to a staff report for Tuesday’s meeting, the idea is “to allow the school district to sell development rights from a school site and to allow the purchaser to utilize the development rights at another property. The value from the sale of these development rights would reduce the land acquisition cost for a school district.”

Marching orders: Purchase land

While not dismissing the shared-campus idea, Baier said it goes against a communitywide directive to prioritize purchasing land. He cited previous community forums and task forces that pointed the district in the direction of expanding.

“We’ve had the same marching orders multiple times,” he said. “We feel, as a district, we’ve had that conversation a number of times and the direction, the preferred option, was clear.”

Baier took issue with land-purchase opponents who contend that district enrollment is declining. While acknowledging that enrollment has dipped recently, he said the district must look several years ahead at enrollment growth and that not doing so would be shortsighted. Noting past mistakes when the district sold school sites, Baier said buying land is essentially now or never, because land values will continue to rise.

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